The US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has warned that rainfall in Maputo in the period October to January was the lowest in more than fifty years. An analysis by FEWS NET found that the current drought is much more severe than last year's, and is similar in severity to the 1991/92 drought.
FEWS NET issued a warning that a growing number of people are, or about to become, highly food insecure. It points to the more remote parts of Gaza, Tete and Inhambane Provinces as areas of most immediate concern. The situation is at its most critical in areas where crop failure is combined with lack of access to other sources of food and income.
In some remote areas much of the population was already food insecure because of last year's drought. Near total crop failure has led people to resort to extreme measures, including moving to nearby towns - or even across the border into South Africa - taking children out of school, and eating dangerous or unpalatable wild foods.
The warning stated that "a serious deterioration in the food security status of vulnerable populations in southern and central Mozambique is occurring and is expected to worsen over the next twelve months. A near-total crop failure in some zones, following a poor harvest last year, has been the primary cause of the current situation." It added that "Food insecurity is most critical in remote zones where household access to food and income is heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, such as the interior of Gaza and Inhambane and southern Tete. Other contributing factors include human, plant and animal diseases, as well as the economic situation in neighbouring Zimbabwe".
The FEWS NET warning also claimed that malnutrition rates "are likely to increase markedly in the coming year after households consume whatever crops they harvest and exhaust their already weakened coping strategies." The organisation used data from the Maputo rainfall station as it is one of the few stations with good historical data, largely unaffected by war and disasters. An analysis of the rainfall pattern shows that the October to January period has seen the lowest rainfall since modern records started in 1951/52.
FEWS NET points out that the most severe drought in recent memory was the 1991/92 drought. It compares satellite images of vegetative growth between then and now, which show stark similarities. FEWS NET warns of clear parallels between the two seasons, especially for Gaza Province and elsewhere in southern Mozambique.
Ironically, this warning drought came as Cyclone Japhet hit the coast of Inhambane, bringing torrential rain to much of Inhambane, Sofala and Manica provinces. The rain itself is too late to assist what harvest remains, and has in fact made things worse.
The number of known deaths caused by Cyclone Japhet in the provinces of Inhambane and Manica now stands at 11, while a further seven people are reported missing in Sofala province. The government's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), has started channelling assistance to about 23,000 victims of the cyclone in Inhambane.
Assessment of the damage is still continuing, and it is feared that many more people will be found to be in need of urgent assistance, particularly in the district of Vilankulo, the area most affected by the cyclone.
The torrential rains brought by the cyclone have also led to the interruption of traffic along a 2.5 kilometre stretch of the main north-south highway near Muxungue town in Sofala.
Fishing suffered a serious setback as a consequence of the bad weather with 27 fishing boats, some of which the beneficiaries had received under a programme to encourage small scale fishing in the province, sinking during the storm.
The first sitting in 2003 of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, began quietly on 3 March, since the main opposition party, Renamo, did not implement its threats to continue disrupting parliamentary sessions.
In December, at the end of the previous parliamentary session, Renamo disrupted proceedings for four consecutive days, demanding that five Renamo dissidents, including a former head of the Renamo parliamentary group, Raul Domingos, be expelled from the Assembly.
Bur on 3 March Renamo was on its best behaviour for the formal opening of the sitting - perhaps because of the presence of the diplomatic corps in the public gallery. Even more surprising, the leader of the Renamo group, Ossufo Quitine, did not mention the five dissidents in his speech.
The head of the parliamentary group of the ruling Frelimo Party, Manuel Tome, made an oblique reference to the Renamo tactics of December stating that "to honour our mandate, and comply with the vocation of this house, the Assembly must function with the strictest respect, not only for the constitution, but also for the other laws which the Assembly approves to discipline and regulate its normal functioning", he said. "It would be totally incoherent and unacceptable for the Assembly to demand from other institutions, and from citizens in general, respect for the laws which it approves, if it does not respect, with full rigour, the laws that apply to itself".
Antonio Carrasco, director of the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), the electoral branch of the Mozambican civil service, acknowledged on 27 February that municipal elections are behind schedule, but he assured reporters that they will be held before the end of this year.
Addressing journalists during a seminar on electoral coverage, organised by the Mozambican Journalists Union (SNJ), Carrasco explained that STAE needs at least six months to organise all the stages in the electoral process, from the announcement of the election date up to voting.
The first municipal elections were held on 30 June 1998, and the mayors and municipal assemblies elected then had a five year term of office. So the second elections ought to be held in June of this year: however there is not enough time before June to do all the preparations that are necessary "We are now at the end of February, and it is technically impossible to organise the municipal elections in just four months", said Carrasco. "We have timetables strictly established by law, that we cannot violate".
He noted that there is an established period for the electoral campaign, for the submission of candidates, and other procedures. Furthermore, the electoral registers have not been updated since 1999.
Carrasco said that only on 26 February did STAE submit its work plan to the National Elections Commission (CNE), the body in overall charge of the elections. The CNE must now study that proposal, and decide whether to endorse it. The exact dates of elections are fixed by the government, but on the proposal of the CNE. In practice, the government will endorse the date suggested by the CNE.
Carrasco said that STAE is suggesting that the update of the electoral registers take place in July, and the election be held in August. However, according to reports on Mozambican Television, it is more likely that the elections will be postponed into November, or even early December.
Carrasco said that around 70,000 people will be working as electoral staff, "and the priority is the training of staff for the electoral bodies. We are going to train trainers at national level, who will be recruited through public advertisements in the media. National trainers will train others at district level, and the latter will do the same at local level".
As for funding, Carrasco said that the government has, so far, disbursed only 18 per cent of the $25 million necessary. Extra money might be needed for an eventual second round in some of the municipalities, should none of the mayoral candidates win an outright majority on the first round.
Carrasco's assessment of the timetable is not to the liking of the main opposition party, Renamo, which has instantly claimed that Carrasco does not have the legal power to determine the dates of the elections.
"Carrasco's past his expiry date. He shouldn't be in STAE any more", declared Renamo spokesman Fernando Mazanga. He pointed out that the CNE must appoint a new director of STAE, after seeking candidates through publicly advertising the job. This is true, but, until somebody else is chosen, Carrasco remains director, and has the duty to advise the CNE on such matters as electoral timetables. And there is nothing to stop Carrasco applying for the post when it is advertised. The delay in the municipal elections is entirely due to Renamo's obstructionist tactics last year in the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, where it delayed amendments to the electoral legislation until September, and the appointment of a new CNE until December.
Rice production in the central province of Zambezia is set to reach 130,000 tonnes a year by 2004 thanks to the inauguration of the Mucelo irrigation system, in Nicoadala district, about 30 kilometres north of Quelimane, the provincial capital, on 14 February.
The Mucelo irrigation system, covering 250 hectares, was rehabilitated at a cost of one million dollars, granted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This system was damaged during the war of destabilisation that ended in October 1992, and it has been lying idle since then.
This investment aims specifically at relaunching rice production here, but more money will be needed, to set up agro-industries in Zambezia. There are plans to encourage small scale farmers, exploiting a maximum of 10 hectares each, who will be assisted by Indian technicians and Mozambican extensionists based in Nicoadala.
Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia noted that, under normal conditions, Zambezia will yield about 90,000 tonnes of rice a year, "but my target is to get 130,000 tonnes as from next year". Muteia believes that, if the farmers use the recommended technologies, "it is possible to obtain a yield of about eight tonnes per hectare" in the area of the Mucelo system. Zambezia alone accounts for about half of the country's rice production.
Muteia stated that the government hopes to rehabilitate all the irrigation systems in Zambezia. "We are thinking of producing rice in the Luabo area (on the north bank of the Zambezi), which also has great potential", he said.
"We also intend to work in Sofala province where we will set up new irrigation systems", added Muteia. He was speaking after a visit to Mauritius where he spoke to potential investors about the possibility of them helping produce rice in the central region of Mozambique.
Meanwhile, more than $10 million has been invested in the Chokwe irrigation system, on the Limpopo river, in the southern province of Gaza, that was completely wrecked by the devastating floods of 2000.
After the largest flood on the Limpopo on record, the Chokwe system remained completely submerged for several months, ruining equipment, irrigation channels and the rice fields themselves.
Muteia thanked the Japanese government for its financial assistance in rehabilitating the Chokwe irrigation system, where the target is to have 20,000 hectares available for use in the next few years.
He said that his ministry intends first to reach, by next season, the annual production of about 15,000 tonnes of rice that was the norm for many years.
Meanwhile, an irrigation system, covering 130 hectares in the administrative post of Macarretane, about 24 kilometres north of Chokwe, was formally handed over to the Macarretane Agricultural Association on 19 February. The system was built with funds granted by the Social Development Fund of the South African petrochemical industry SASOL to serve the local communities. This comes as part of the Pande and Temane natural gas project, and aims at reactivating agricultural production in that area.
The Mozambican armed forces (FADM) has stated that it no longer possess any anti-personnel land mines. On 28 February FADM destroyed the last of its stocks of mines at a ceremony in Moamba, 60 kilometres north-west of Maputo, attended by the Foreign and Defence Ministers, Leonardo Simao and Tobias Dai, foreign diplomats and staff from the National Demining Institute (IND).
FADM has been destroying its land mines over the past two years. When it started to dispose of them in 2001 there were 37,818 stored in military installations across the country. On 28 February the final 1,350 mines were blown up.
The bulk of the mines (24,076) were destroyed in 2002 in joint operations by the FADM and the IND. The final phase of eliminating these weapons from the FADM's arsenals began a few days ago in the northern province of Nampula, where 8,554 were destroyed. Then 1,988 were blown up at Chokwe, in the Limpopo valley. 1,350 were destroyed in Moamba on 27 February, and the same number the following day.
But Mozambique cannot yet claim to be free of land mines. The ones destroyed are the ones whose whereabouts were known: many thousands of others - nobody knows exactly how many - are still hidden in the Mozambican soil, where they were planted by both sides during the war of destabilisation that ended in 1992. Destroying stocks of land mines is one of the obligations accepted by the Mozambican government when it signed up to the Ottawa treaty outlawing these weapons.
Most of the civilised world was eager to sign up to the Ottawa convention - but three countries, all of them with the power of veto on the UN Security Council, the United States, Russia and China, continue to produce these weapons.
Speaking at the ceremony, Simao said that the destruction of the FADM's last stocks of mines express the government's commitment to the international efforts to eradicate anti- personnel mines.
With this stage now over, Simao hoped that promises made at the first meeting of signatories to the Ottawa treaty, held in Maputo in 1999, would now be implemented. International funding is available for programmes of civic education, warning civilians of the dangers of mines, for helping the victims of mines, and for transferring new demining technologies - but the statement from the Maputo conference made clear that this assistance would flow primarily "to those who have forsworn the use of these weapons forever through adherence to and implementation of the Ottawa convention".
Simao said that, in the five years from December 1997 (when Mozambique signed the Ottawa treaty) to December 2002, 21 million square metres of the country have been demined. The demining teams removed and destroyed some 75,000 buried anti-personnel mines.
The Supreme Council of the Judicial Magistrature (CSMJ), the body responsible for disciplining Mozambican judges, has confirmed the reports that judge Augusto Paulino, who presided at the trial of the murderers of journalist Carlos Cardoso, has been promoted.
On 20 December, while the Cardoso murder trial was still under way, the CSMJ decided to promote Paulino from the tenth section of the Maputo City Court to become Presiding Judge of the Maputo Provincial Court, based in Matola.
This is one of several dozen transfers of judges decided by the CSMJ. As a result of these changes, every provincial court (except Inhambane and Maputo City) has a new presiding judge.
One surprising change is the move of judge Achirafo Abdula from the Maputo City Court to become the Presiding Judge in the Nampula provincial court. Abdula was the judge in charge of the immensely complex case of the 1996 fraud at what was then the country's largest bank, the BCM, in which the bank lost the equivalent of 14 million US dollars.
Corrupt attorneys working for the Abdul Satar crime family were responsible for disorganising the BCM case papers and hiding evidence, so that the case was in no fit state to come to trial.
It was this scandal which led to the fall of Attorney- General Antonio Namburete, and to the complete reorganisation of the Attorney-General's office in 2000.
The BCM case has been carefully pieced together again, and the investigations under Abdula were almost complete. All that remained was to fix a date for the trial. Abdula's transfer to the north could throw the timetable out. The case must be given to another Maputo judge, who will need time to study it. A trial date will thus be delayed by weeks, if not months.
President Joaquim Chissano on 6 March praised the Mozambican press for its important role in defending democracy, but warned against sensationalism.
President Chissano was speaking at a ceremony where members of the Supreme Mass Media Council (CSCS) took office. The CSCS is a watchdog body established under the Mozambican constitution and the 1991 press law, which is to protect press freedom and prevent abuses.
President Chissano said that the "absence of an investigative spirit" in Mozambican journalism could lead some of its practitioners "to embark on the path of sensationalism and speculation", which would not be useful for the building of a democratic society. He warned that the quest for sensationalism would deprive citizens of objective and impartial information, oriented towards the country's development.
The CSCS chairperson, Julieta Langa, who has been appointed to a second term of office, said that she would dedicate her efforts to the creation of a press that would be more active on development matters. Langa, who is the head of the Arts Faculty at Maputo's Eduardo Mondlane University, took a harsher line towards the media than the President. "We have noted that our press is still very backward when it comes to development matters", she said. "In general the national media embraces speculation. It does not practice constructive journalism".
Three journalists have been elected to the CSCS: Cremildo Muando and Eduardo Figurao (both from Radio Mozambique), and Carlos Coelho (from the daily paper "Noticias").
The new CSCS is taking office over a year late. The term of office of the last CSCS expired in December 2001. The delay was largely because Chissano has the power to appoint two members of the body, but did not do so until last month. The other nine members had already been chosen - three elected by journalists, four chosen by the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, one representative of the judiciary, and one representative of media companies.
The governor of the central province of Manica, Soares Nhaca, has declared that the role of Zimbabwean farmers is fundamental for the development of commercial agriculture in Mozambique.
Nhaca was speaking after visiting seven farms run by Zimbabwean commercial farmers, who have left their country of origin largely because of the chaotic land reform imposed by the Zimbabwean government. Zimbabwe's loss is Mozambique's gain, and Nhaca said notable agricultural development was under way in the areas where the Zimbabwean farmers have settled.
There are about 50 of them in all, and they have been granted land to farm in the districts of Mossurize, Sussundenga, Gondola and Manica. The Zimbabweans are mainly producing tea, tobacco and other cash crops, but during his visit Nhaca urged them also to grow food crops, particularly grains and vegetables, to satisfy local needs.
Nhaca said the investment by the Zimbabwean farmers in Manica was part of the Mozambican government's drive to restore agricultural production, after the devastation caused by the war of destabilisation that ended in 1992.
The main stress of the Agriculture Ministry has been on peasant farming, which has responded well, particularly in the fertile north of the country. But large scale commercial agriculture has yet to recover, and requires substantial investment.
The argument against foreign farmers settling in Mozambique, sometimes raised by opposition politicians, is that they will usurp land from Mozambican peasants. But according to Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia, so far there have been no conflicts between the Zimbabweans and Mozambican rural communities. He said this was because the authorities had been careful "to consult with the communities, to find out whether the land is occupied or not, before granting any plots to foreigners".
Muteia stressed that the work of the Zimbabwean farmers could be an important contribution to the development of agriculture in Mozambique.
Under a memorandum of understanding signed in the northern port city of Nacala on 28 February, private investors have promised to invest $27 million in upgrading the port and the Nacala-Malawi railway.
This memorandum is one of the final steps before the handover of the management of the Nacala port and rail system to the Northern Development Corridor (CDN) consortium, formed essentially by Mozambican and American companies.
CDN has official United States backing, expressed by a contribution of $600,000 from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that will pay for a new control and communication system along the Corridor.
The memorandum was signed by the USAID director in Mozambique, Jay Knott, and by Fernando Couto and Jack Edlow, for the Mozambican and American sides of CDN.
The signing was witnessed by Mozambican Transport Minister Tomas Salomao, and US ambassador, Sharon Wilkinson.
The Mozambican government remains committed to reviving the coal mines at Moatize, in the western province of Tete, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Castigo Langa, told reporters on 26 February.
The government is attempting to mobilise funds to rehabilitate the mines, and to build a thermal power station that would take advantage of the abundant coal.
The total cost of these projects is estimated at over $1.3 billion. Of this sum over a billion dollars is for the power station, while the remainder would go towards resuming production from the mines.
Langa believed that the Moatize coal has guaranteed markets in Brazil and South Africa, among other countries. However, the project is entirely dependent on rebuilding the Sena railway line that links Moatize to the port of Beira. The railway was shut down almost two decades ago during the war of destabilisation: the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels destroyed long stretches of the track, and blew up the Dona Ana rail bridge over the Zambezi river.
With the railway closed, it became impossible to export coal via Beira. Since then the only exports from Moatize have been small amounts of coal trucked into Malawi.
Rebuilding the Sena line is costed at $300 million. Land mines planted along the length of the railway have been removed and the Dona Ana bridge has been rebuilt, but is currently only operating as a road bridge.
Asked about plans to build a new dam on the Zambezi, at Mepanda Ncua, some 70 kilometres downstream from the existing Cahora Bassa dam, Langa said the project is being promoted among potential investors.
He had discussed it on a visit to China at the end of last year, and a technical team from his ministry is currently touring Europe and the United States in an attempt to create interest.
Langa was speaking in an interval in a meeting of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), the organisation that brings together the national electricity companies of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region.
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